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Skip to 0 minutes and 12 seconds Between 2016 and 2018 international NGO Ground Truth Solutions ran surveys in nine countries, some affected by disaster including Afghanistan, Haiti, Somalia as well as countries receiving refugee populations. Nearly 10,000 people were asked to provide their views on the performance and the value of the humanitarian system they encountered. The findings were mixed. Generally, people said they felt safe where they now lived and treated with respect. However, people felt they were not consulted about the aid they were given and there was little consideration of how they become more self-reliant in the future.

Skip to 1 minute and 4 seconds These girls are great I really like this picture. Very nice shots and it shows good engagement of community. These photos are very interesting to observe because it tells you a lot about the communities that we need to be engaged with. They live in disaster vulnerable countries and they definitely need help from us. I can see the gender difference, community difference, society difference, demographic, social and economic differences in the photos. So we need to hear everyone’s voices when we are working in disaster interventions, evaluation and learning. Why? because they could become first responders in the future. They might find themselves tackling health and sanitation issues, teaching or even keeping others safe.

Skip to 1 minute and 48 seconds Some of these things need to be done immediately after a disaster occurrence. Some within a few days, some within a few weeks. Don’t forget disasters do not wait. Trying to engage communities if we can’t break the ice creates problems. We cannot engage them without their trust. This is why we need community leaders like teachers and doctors to help you gain access to the community in need. Shoji Hasegawa is an advisor to the Japan International Cooperation Agency. He helps communities to build capacity and he knows how difficult it can be to talk to them. In Pakistan especially, there are big issues with security.

Skip to 2 minutes and 30 seconds For example, at the border of Afghanistan, foreigners will not be able to go to the borders because of the security issues, so we invite the local people to Islamabad, the capital city of Pakistan, to take training. Pakistan is an Islamic country. I’m from Japan, I’m a Buddhist. Buddhist is different from Muslim culture, so that is a big challenge, how we can train the people from the community. We can provide some materials - some training modules - but to take the training to community level, the community leader has to make some training. If we train the Imam, for example, this is the evacuation route, this is the evacuation site, all the people from the community will follow it.

Skip to 3 minutes and 37 seconds So you see it’s vital that we find a way to involve the communities we’re helping.

The need to improve participation of affected populations

The final area of focus for this week is on the importance of local participation in governance and how participation enables accountability to affected populations. Participation in this context is defined by CHS and the Inter Agency Standing Committee (IASC) as:

…enabling crisis-affected people to play an active role in the decision-making processes that affect them. It is achieved through the establishment of clear guidelines and practices to engage them appropriately and ensure that the most marginalised and worst affected are represented and have influence.

(CHS Alliance, 2018, p. 28)

The CHS’s definition of accountability in humanitarian response is:

…the process of using power responsibly, taking account of, and being held accountable by, different stakeholders, and primarily those who are affected by the exercise of such power.

(CHS Alliance, 2014, p. 19)

You may remember that we introduced the academic definition of accountability previously as, ‘the means by which individuals and organisations report to a recognised authority, or authorities, and are held responsible for their actions’ (Edwards & Hulme, 1996, p. 8). The notion of accountability in the humanitarian context has evolved to take account of previous shortcomings in the sector, notably the inappropriate use of power by external agencies acting in disaster-prone locations, and the dominance of upward accountability.

The accountability part of the governance system in humanitarian response and DRR has swallowed up participation. Many outside the sector might believe that the only reason to engage with local populations is to fulfil accountability requirements.

The benefits of engagement

The Red Cross Movement, in its 2016 guide to Community Engagement and Accountability, makes a clear link between proactive engagement with communities and the achievement of disaster intervention outcomes. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) argue that:

  • Involving and listening to people’s needs and opinions results in better program results
  • Open and honest communication improves acceptance and trust
  • The information from feedback and complaints is the best way to improve program design and implementation
  • It can also act as an early warning of corruption or sexual exploitation and abuse
  • By treating the community as partners, it moves away from treating people as helpless victims and supports them to find solutions to their problems and to be better connected
  • It can help people to adopt safer and healthier practice through awareness-raising work
  • Constant, open communication reduces the risk of unintended consequences (do no harm)
  • It also helps to manage community expectations

As you can see, having governance systems in place that allow full and effective participation of local people achieves more than the narrow view of ‘accountability’ as defined by Edwards and Hulme (1996).

Can local populations participate?

The video at the top of this step refers to the evaluation of feedback from over 10,000 people from nine countries including Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, as well as countries like Austria and Turkey, which have experienced substantial increases in migrant or refugee populations.

The CHS Alliance (2018) reports generally positive views from respondents about feeling safe in their place of residence and feeling treated with respect by aid workers. But this is balanced by them not feeling consulted sufficiently about the aid they receive and limited consideration given to how they will become more self-reliant in the future (CHS Alliance, 2018, p. 24).

There is an argument that engagement with affected and at-risk populations needs to be further improved. One suggestion is to adopt a more robust, business-oriented approach, treating local people like customers (CHS Alliance, 2014) and developing more rigorous feedback and action approaches.

Your task

How appropriate do you think it is to view those people who are serviced by disaster intervention organisations as ‘customers’? What governance systems and processes do organisations need to have in place to allow full participation of local people? What potential changes could adopting this view make?

Further reading

United Nations High Commission for Refugees. (2018). Accountability to affected populations: Emergency handbook. United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Version 2.7. https://emergency.unhcr.org/entry/147239/accountability-to-affected-populations-aap


Core Humanitarian Standard. (2014). Core Humanitarian Standard on quality and accountability. CHS Alliance, Group URD and the Sphere Project. https://corehumanitarianstandard.org/files/files/Core%20Humanitarian%20Standard%20-%20English.pdf

Core Humanitarian Standard Alliance. (2018). How change happens in the humanitarian sector: Humanitarian accountability report. Core Humanitarian Standard Alliance. https://d1h79zlghft2zs.cloudfront.net/uploads/2019/07/Humanitarian_Accountability_Report_2018.pdf

Edwards, M, & Hulme, D. (1996). Beyond the magic bullet. NGO performance and accountability in the post-Cold War world. Kumarian Press.

ICRC/IFRC. (2016). Community engagement and accountability. https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/what-we-do/community-engagement/

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Disaster Interventions and the Need for Evaluation, Accountability and Learning

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